Thursday, August 31, 2017

Saving the Bay From the Beginning - Tides Blog

By Joan Abrams, major gifts officer

Shawen Williams can clearly remember when she first became aware of Save The Bay. As a child, her parents, Janice and Dudley Williams, sent her down to the rocks in front of their eastward-facing Bristol home in early spring to scrape the blobs of oil that had washed up on the shore from the oil tankers that travelled across Mt. Hope Bay to Fall River. The oil had to be removed before the weather warmed, lest it spread across the rocks and cause damage to the property and their pet dogs. “I recall my father telling our family that he’d heard that a group of people was coming together to help clean the water. Although I didn’t really understand what these Tiverton people were going to do, I know that my father was quite excited about this organization called Save The Bay,” she said.

After finishing college in 1983 and returning to Rhode Island, Shawen met London-born-and-raised Andrew MacKeith, when they were both spectators (rooting for opposing teams) of the infamous America’s Cup Race in Newport the year Australia upset the American team. The two avid sailors and swimmers married in 1986, settled permanently in Bristol near Shawen’s childhood home in 1991, and began to spend summers on the family property on Prudence Island’s west side.

Caring deeply about and supporting many of the environmental organizations protecting the land and waters of Rhode Island, the Williams-MacKeith family has been what they refer to as “modest yet consistent” Save The Bay donors for more than 40 years, particularly appreciating the fierce defense of the waters that mean so much to them. “I often credit Save The Bay with the increase in property values around the water’s edge in our state, since the Bay is not the cesspool it was when I was a child,” Shawen said. “No one really sought to live by the water around here back then, as we do today.”

On the other hand, she notes, a new threat to our local waters is the increasing presence of “sea plastic” on our beaches where “sea glass” used to be. “My son Arthur actually pointed this out to me when he was only about four years old, when I took him and [daughter] Hope for a sea glass hunt on Prudence. Hope was older and had the patience to sift for the glass, but Arthur saw the brightly colored plastic bits and decided to pick that up instead. At the end of the day, his bag was far fuller and more colorful than his sister’s. The plastic situation is so out of control,” Shawen said.

Seeing their own children develop an awareness of the precious environment around them is one of the family’s greatest points of pride, and why they are also enthusiastic supporters of Save The Bay’s education program, which provides Bay experiences for tens of thousands of schoolchildren and adults throughout the watershed. “Children learn by example and experiences,” declared Andrew, “and so we are very supportive of Save The Bay’s approach to offer a range of opportunities for children to be in, on and near the Bay.”

Having been exposed to Save The Bay and other forms of environmental activism by her father when she was a young child, Shawen shares the belief with Andrew, who was raised by his pediatrician father, Dr. Ronald C. MacKeith, to revere history, architecture and science, that children become advocates by watching their own parents’ actions and interests. Their daughter Hope, now a 21-year-old junior at Smith College, has researched issues that affect Prudence Island salt marshes. And son Arthur, a freshman at the University of Chicago, pointed out in his high school thesis that nearby development in Bristol could cause irreparable damage to the watershed.

And at the same time, thinking back on her own childhood in Bristol and awareness even at a very young age of the threats to what had been pristine waters, Shawen muses, “What condition would the Bay be in now, if it hadn’t been for an organization like Save The Bay so many years ago?”

Monday, August 28, 2017

What Save The Bay Camps Are All A“BOAT”

Juila Akerman, communications intern

It was a beautiful Wednesday morning at Save The Bay in Providence, the seagulls were chirping and the calm water was projecting a beautiful mirrored image of the sky. For most people in the Save The Bay community, it was just another spectacular day at the office, however, for about 20 students from the PASA (Providence Afterschool Alliance) program, today was the most important day of their summer.

The infamous cardboard boat race was about to start. Crowds of young campers and curious employees flooded the docks down by the water. The campers participating divided up in their four groups and presented their hand crafted boats.

How did these 7th and 8th graders construct these vessels from scratch? Well, over the past five weeks, the students worked hard with two Save The Bay instructors that taught them how and why things float through various lessons and a buoyancy lab. The buoyancy lab focused on the correlation between mass, volume, density and the ability of objects to float. The students were given the opportunity to manipulate the volume of objects to create a certain density that would make it float. This lab prepared them for their engineering project which was to construct these vessels out of cardboard and make sure that they would float using the knowledge they acquired during class and the lab. After about 20 rolls of duct tape, the students were ready to put their vessels to the test. Today was the day they had been waiting for all summer, it was time to show off all their hard work at the Save The Bay boat race.
The overall goal of the race was to paddle from one dock to the next, and return without sinking. Two daring sailors from each team geared up in bright orange life jackets and paddles. The race was about to begin, the ecstatic spectators were cheering and clapping, anxiously waiting for the young sailors to put their “paddle to the metal” and battle to the finish line.

The counselors and Captain Dan assisted all the jittery crew members into their respective vessels. Captain Dan exclaims, “Alright ladies and gentlemen! Who’s ready?!” The crowds on the docks start roaring like thunder, igniting the young sailors with excitement. Counselor Lindsay waits in the water in her kayak, holding a lifeguard ring, ensuring the safety of all the participants in the race.

Finally, it’s time. Captain Dan shouts, “On your mark, get set, GO!” The sailors dig their paddles into the water and paddle as hard as they can. The spectators on the docks are jumping up and down with excitement as the sailors make their way across the water to the other dock and back. For some teams, like the Titanic II, their journey doesn’t get them far before water starts flushing in the boat, causing it to slowly sink and forcing them to abandon ship. The Titanic II members laugh as they swim over to the ladder, accepting that their leaking cardboard ship caused them to lose the race.
For the other contestants, the race isn’t over yet. An ambitious camper Tyler calls out to his partner, “paddle! Paddle!” hoping that they can claim the first place title for their team. Paddling with every ounce of energy left in their bodies, the rest of the boats safely return to the docks. The counselors help the campers back onto the dock where they are high fived and celebrated by their teammates. All the PASA students can’t help but smile, expressing their happiness and satisfaction with the project they just completed.

The counselors and spectators all give a huge round of applause to the students, congratulating them for their hard work and accomplishments. The fun doesn’t end there for the PASA students because the ambitious counselors have an eventful summer planned for them and the cardboard boat race was just a hint of what’s to come.

Monday, August 21, 2017

From Discovery to Recovery: Oil on the Bay

By Mike Jarbeau, Narragansett BayKeeper

As Narragansett Baykeeper, my primary responsibility is to serve as the “eyes and ears” for the Bay and provide an on-the-water presence. Being on the water serves many important functions, helping me identify pollution, monitor and document water quality and engage with all users of the Bay. On a recent Saturday morning, I left the Bay Center dock on Scout, our 23-foot center console vessel, to check out weekend activity on the water and visit the locations of some of our recent work on the Providence River.

Heading south, I could see a fleet of Beetle Cat sailboats departing Edgewood Yacht Club and the Seastreak ferry making its way from Providence to Newport, and I heard radio broadcasts of an upcoming speedboat race. Upon reaching Stillhouse Cove in Cranston, I was startled to notice Scout entering a large sheen. I looked around and saw evidence of oil in all directions. Among the sheen were streaks of thick, black oil. The scent of petroleum was unmistakable. I estimated the scene to encompass between 5,000-10,000 square feet. While the source wasn’t clear to me, it was obvious that a significant amount of oil had made its way into the Bay.

I made a report to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) after-hours emergency phone number and was quickly called back by the Oil & Hazardous Materials Specialist, David Dumsar. He indicated that he was interested in responding, but did not have access to a boat. I offered the use of Scout, and picked him up at the Bay Center shortly after, where we loaded the boat with response materials. Upon returning to the spill site, we attached several lengths of oil-absorbent boom to the stern of the boat in an attempt to collect as much oil as possible. After almost two hours, we couldn’t locate any more oil in the area. We collected the boom and returned to the Bay Center, having recovered a significant amount of oil, which wouldn’t have been possible without the rapid, willing assistance of DEM.

In this case, Save The Bay’s physical presence on the Bay directly resulted in the identification and cleanup of an oil spill that may have gone unnoticed otherwise. This was a great example of the value Save The Bay provides as an organization with one primary constituent – Narragansett Bay. While the small scale of the spill likely did not warrant the use of specialized equipment including oil-skimming boats, DEM should have the personnel and resources to respond to and assess all spills reported to them. We encourage our state leaders to step up and demonstrate a commitment to Narragansett Bay by properly resourcing DEM and other agencies with environmental responsibilities. This becomes increasingly important with proposed reductions in Federal support and resources.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Advocacy in Action: A Win for Public Access in Cranston

By Mike Jarbeau, Narragansett Baykeeper

Protecting and promoting public access to Narragansett Bay is a core component of Save The Bay’s work. Our advocacy staff works tirelessly to identify and engage any actions or activities that could threaten the progress that’s been made around the Bay. Recently, we were made aware of a fast-moving ordinance by the Cranston City Council intended to ban fishing from a public access point at the end of Ocean Avenue in Cranston. The draft ordinance stemmed from complaints from nearby property owners, including the Rhode Island Yacht Club, about littering, noise violations, and congestion at the end of the narrow street. The ordinance was flawed in that it failed to address any of the problems at the site while singling out the fishing community.

The public access site at the end of Ocean Avenue.
(Buildingin the background is Rhode Island Yacht Club)
We worked quickly to gather the relevant facts and met with others opposed to the ordinance, including the Edgewood Waterfront Preservation Association and the Rhode Island Saltwater Angler’s Association. We asked the Coastal Resources Management Council to clarify the city council’s interpretation of state public access policy, and urged the Department of Environmental Management to formally confirm its role as the only agency in the state with the power to regulate fishing activities. We also made the Attorney General’s office aware of potential conflicts with the state constitution. At the same time, we met with the Rhode Island Yacht Club and other neighbors to other solutions. We reached out to city council members to share our concerns and offer Save The Bay’s assistance in promoting public access.

The Save The Bay team attended and testified at the July 24th Cranton City Council meeting in opposition of the ordinance. The council passed an amended version, but we felt it didn’t go far enough, and urged Mayor Allan Fung to veto. The Mayor’s office clarified that it read “and will enforce the ordinance to allow people to stand on the ocean side of the guardrail to the sea wall and on the beach for fishing – but not in the street or on the sidewalk.” In the end, all rights of fishery are maintained at the public access point.

We appreciate the actions of the Cranston City Council in hearing our concerns and amending the ordinance. However, we still do not believe the new ordinance addresses the concerns about noise, litter and parking at the end of Ocean Avenue; we urge the city of Cranston to look closely at solutions that will promote public access at this site and others, and we stand ready to assist. 

Every day, Save The Bay fights for the rights of all to enjoy a healthy Narragansett Bay. Our network of members and supporters plays a huge role by serving as additional eyes and ears in the community. In this case, we were able to further the concerns of community members and work with other organizations and state agencies to raise awareness of a threat to public access and influence positive change.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Dammed Wildlife

The Kickemuit River Fish Ladder was built on the
Warren Reservoir 
to give migrating river
herring access to the pond.
By Rachel Calabro, Save The Bay Riverkeeper

Imagine you are a river fish. To thrive in your environment, you have a few requirements. Cool water with enough oxygen will keep you alert and active. Insects that wash downstream or emerge from the stream bottom will keep you fed. Sand and gravel in which to lay your eggs and plenty of places to hide from predators are also keys to survival. When rivers function properly, all these things are in place to support a wide diversity of fish and insects.

But when environmental stresses, such as low water levels or warm water, are present, fish need places to go for refuge. Just like on a hot sunny day you might seek the shade of a tree, fish seek out cold spots in deep pools and under bits of wood in the stream. Fish also need to find mates to increase their genetic diversity and species health. A healthy population of fish will be able to migrate up and downstream and into tributary streams to mix and mingle with others of their species and to find new habitat. These are all parts of a healthy stream ecosystem.

An historic photo of Pawtuxet Bridge and
falls before the dam was removed in 2011. 

Dams, culverts and other physical changes to a stream can cause harm not only to the species living there, but also to the quality of the water and habitat for other wildlife and surrounding ecosystems. Dams change the dynamics of a stream by slowing the water, allowing fine sediment to deposit rather than flow downstream, and changing both temperature and nutrients in the water. Warm water holds less oxygen. Gravels are covered over by fine silts and sands. In essence, a dam turns a river into a pond. Fish that thrive in ponds move in to the newly created habitat, cutting off the upstream habitat from the fish living in the river below. As a result, genetic diversity suffers, and less food comes downstream. The community of river fish changes as well.

Humans have caused many changes to our surrounding environment, but few of our changes to streams and rivers have had as much consequence as dams. Although beavers have made dams for thousands of years, altering the landscape in many ways, these dams are temporary and an important part of creating a constantly changing set of diverse wetland systems. Our wildlife adapt and thrive with these changes. Most of our man-made dams no longer serve their original purpose of providing power for mills. They have become icons of industrial and community heritage with lasting negative effects on river and stream ecosystems.

The Hopewell Mills dam was removed in 2012 to restore the
Mill River in Taunton, Massachusetts. Three dams on
this river are being removed.
Efforts to restore migrating fish populations with fish ladders have allowed us to leave the dams and preserve their legacy while trying to accommodate some lost river function. But these aging structures are becoming a hazard for our communities as they reach the end of their functional lives, threatening either to release years of sediment that has accumulated behind them or flooding downstream towns and structures when they fail.

Climate change is adding to the challenge of managing undersized and outdated dams. Unpredictability in our weather and increasing severity of both droughts and floods will require our ecosystems to be more resilient and our wildlife to be more adaptive. This means allowing for more migration, more chances to find refuge, and more diversity in habitat. Mammals and birds can migrate across the landscape and can move in response to shifts in temperature. Fish can migrate only as far as they can swim, and for many, that means as far as the next dam upstream. We are seeing major shifts in ocean fish related to changing ocean temperatures, so we expect populations of freshwater fish to change as well.

The Hopewell Mills dam was removed in 2012 to
restore the Mill River in Taunton, Massachusetts.
Three dams on this river are being removed.
Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, New England has a larger density of small dams than any other place in the country. More than 600 dams still stand in Rhode Island, more than 3,000 in Massachusetts, and more than 6,000 in Connecticut. Many of these dams are over 200 years old. Working with various local partners, as well as partners in state and federal government, Save The Bay supports dam removal projects that aim to create resilient streams with diverse habitats.

Dam removal has really gathered steam in Massachusetts, where more than 50 dams have been removed in the last 15 years. The Commonwealth has an entire Division of Ecological Restoration that works not only on dams, but on culverts, stream flow and wetland restoration. The state has made a concerted effort to support these projects through capitol authorizations and grant programs.

Rhode Island also has a small habitat restoration fund and supports river restoration projects through state bond referenda, but no dedicated program for riverine habitat restoration exists in state government. Here, local watershed councils and others must initiate fundraising and manage projects. Save The Bay has assisted on several dam removal projects in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, providing technical, fundraising and outreach support. These projects require multiple partners, from the federal government to local volunteers, and take many years to complete.

Of the 496 animal species federally listed as threatened or endangered, nearly half are freshwater species that have found themselves living in small habitat “islands” due to the cumulative effects of dams, roads and development. This makes them extremely vulnerable to one-time events such as last year’s drought, which dried up small streams in the Taunton watershed and killed many localized populations of rare freshwater mussels.

Diadromous fish—those that migrate between fresh and salt water, like herring, shad, sturgeon, smelt and eels—have all suffered population declines to less than five percent of historic levels, and many rivers lost these species completely. In addition, only about five percent of historic brook trout populations remain and are extremely vulnerable to temperature stress. We have seen many gains in water quality in the last few decades, but we still must remain vigilant in the protection of our most vulnerable freshwater species. The Narragansett Bay watershed depends on us.